“There are more dangerous points in the registry”
On February 6, independent journalists held a conference on demands for changing the Law on Media, adopted last year in January.
Speaking at the conference, the editor of “AbzasMedia” Sevinj Vagifqizi said that the media should operate freely.
It should not be mandatory for the media to go through some registry, and journalists should not be required to work with a single license.
Alasgar Mammadli, an expert on media law, clarified the questions about why the topic was brought up now.
“The editorial office itself knows whether to report 10 or 100 news in one day…”
He said that since the law’s adoption, this problem has not fallen off the agenda. It’s just that the government itself did not perform the actions provided for in the legislation on time:
“It was thought that the application of the law was suspended after the negative opinion of the Venice Commission. The Venice Commission said that this law is against the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention only supports the licensing of broadcasting and does not support the subjection of any other media to a special authorization system. Any such permission is an interference with media freedom. In our new law, not only the television and radio field, but the entire media sphere is subject to the permission system. This means restricting media freedom. All this is a step towards the abolition of the real media and the possibility of the activity of only fake media”.
The lawyer said that the new campaign has started now, because the executive director of the Media Development Agency, Ahmad Ismayilov, made a statement on this issue, arguing that if some media has not passed the register, then it does not exist.
Mammadli hopes that the government will take into account the legitimate demands of both the constitution, the convention, and free journalists and change the law, especially to abandon the many restrictive norms directly related to the issue of the media registry and this format of the registry:
“Another point: they say, a news site should write 20 news a day. How could you be trying to influence editorial policy by law? The editorial office can give 10 pieces of news or 100 in one day. This is the policy of the editorial office. The government can’t put its stamp on the editorial policy, saying, “No, if 19 news stories are published, I will shut you down and fine you.”
“Ahmed Ismayilov said that if you have not passed the registry, then you are not a journalist”
The editor of Meydan TV, Aynur Elgunesh, said that they have barely operated as a blocked site for years:
“Meydan TV’s head office is located in Germany, where it is registered. We have been trying to pass accreditation in Azerbaijan for years, but they do not pass it. Our activity is restricted. Unfortunately, the restrictions applied to us until now have been applied to the activities of all independent media and journalists. They say that it is mandatory for media organizations to go through the register, but it is voluntary for independent journalists to go through the register. Let’s see, it’s voluntary, but the journalist is going to conduct a survey on the street. The police approach, ask, and search who he is, if his name is not in the register, they do not consider him a journalist. Ahmad Ismayilov himself once said that if you have not passed the registry, then you are not a journalist. This gives the police a reason to easily stop the journalist.”
Elgunesh said that independent journalists were not allowed to state events and press conferences anyway. After that, they will prohibit it by law:
“It is true that the word “compulsory” is not used in the law, but it is applied. It is impossible to be a real independent journalist. You must have a contract with a media organization. In any case, they create problems.”
“Sooner or later these cases will go to the ECHR and these decisions will be annulled”
Mehman Aliyev, the founder of Turan Information Agency, said that it is difficult to say what awaits independent media and journalists after March. It is not clear what steps they will take:
“It is true that sooner or later these cases will go to the ECHR and these decisions will be annulled. It is about the fact that when this issue came up last year, we started protests, negotiations went on, and we had meetings. They promised to look into it, but they did not. Let’s not separate the registry from the law. All are flawed and should be revised. The law should support development. Here, it further restricts the freedom of speech.”
“The law must be repealed”
Arif Aliyev, chairman of the Yeni Nasil Journalists’ Union, said that the register has started to cause serious concerns.
According to him, the government and state bodies themselves are currently embarrassed by this law. This is evident from their statements almost every day because there are many loopholes in the bill itself:
“There are more dangerous moments in the register. The bill should be repealed. Campaigns related to the registry should also continue. If the draft law remains in this state, it will create many problems for journalists, the government, and the society.”
“They have mobilized the resources of the government against the media”
According to Mustafa Hajibeyli, the editor of the Basta.info website, until now they silenced people by arresting some people, filing criminal cases, harassing them, arresting some people, and expelling others from the country.
“There are very few media organizations and journalists who criticize the government left. They took away the financial base for the development of the independent press. They have mobilized the resources of the government against the media. The last step is to eliminate the media and journalists who cannot be controlled.”
“The law must be adapted to European standards”
Khalid Agaliyev, an expert on media law, said that on December 6, 2021, the resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE NK) was adopted:
“This was related to the implementation of the decisions of the ECHR regarding journalists. It was mentioned that the AEC NK is aware of the idea of drafting a law on media in Azerbaijan and welcomes it with interest. It was mentioned that the government should work to adapt the new law to the standards of the Council of Europe and involve the experts of the Council of Europe. Three days later, the Parliament officially announced the draft law”.
The lawyer added that they had only one day to discuss it and around five hours to make proposals:
“We were able to quickly look at the bill and make our additions. The law should be adapted to European standards. It should be completely replaced. After a while, the law will create problems for everyone, not just 10-15 independent journalists.”
“The media registry was in Italy during Mussolini’s time”
Khadija Ismayil, the editor of Toplum TV and an investigative journalist, noted that no one should be deceived, there were restrictions on independent media before. Still, now it has come into force as a law:
“When did we go to an event and our name was on the list? Or are we left to some application? Let’s not deceive ourselves, we couldn’t work normally before. For us, the registry has always existed unofficially. By doing this, they actually push people from normal media platforms to social media.”
The journalist said that according to the new law, there are relatively few restrictions on social media. Now everyone will be a social media broadcaster:
“They do not allow independent media to exist in the web space of Azerbaijan, they will not allow an editorial office to exist in a publishing house or in some place.”
Khadija Ismayil said that there is no experience of media registry in any normal developing country, only in Italy during Mussolini’s time.
” If something is in the law, it cannot be voluntary”
The editor of the Argument.az website Shamshad Agha is also against the law and the registry.
According to him, the idea that the media register is voluntary for journalists is just “manipulation, deceiving the society.”
Other journalists speaking at the event also emphasized that the Law “On Media” endangers the information society.
What does Ahmed Ismayilov say?
At today’s meeting of the Economic policy, industry, and entrepreneurship committee of Milli Majlis, the executive director of the Media Development Agency (MEDIA) Ahmet Ismayilov said that the media register does not ensure that someone is a journalist.
According to him, journalists can continue their activities even without a media register.
“It’s just that if someone wants to register himself in the media register, those journalists can use certain privileges granted by the state. I note once again that registration in the media register is not mandatory, the activity of a journalist who is not in the media register is not limited at all.”
Independent media representatives of Azerbaijan have started the “we don’t want licensed media” campaign regarding the amendment of the law on the media registry.
Journalists who think that the register will essentially play the role of a license and permit say that this is against the Constitution of Azerbaijan.
Before the campaign, independent journalists and media specialists of Azerbaijan signed a position paper on the problems arising due to the implementation of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On Media”.
When was the law adopted?
At the end of 2021, the “Media Law” was discussed and adopted in the parliament in Azerbaijan. The law entered into force in February 2022 with the approval of the head of the country, envisaging the creation of a single register of media and journalists.
The rules for keeping the register were approved by the Decree of the head of the country dated September 26, 2022.
The country’s independent journalists and media experts believe that the adoption of the Law “On Media” and the implementation of provisions related to the establishment of the Media Registry are contrary to the freedom of expression and media.
On the eve of the adoption and approval of the law, independent journalists expressed their objections to it and even held a protest in front of the Milli Majlis twice.
The reason for the issue to be brought up again is the statement made by the Executive Director of the Media Development Agency, Ahmet Ismayilov, last month.
In the same statement, it is noted that the number of media structures that applied for registration in the Media Registry in the last two months is more than 200. About 160 of them received a positive response, and the applications of others are being considered: “The applications of up to 180 journalists have also been approved.”
As for those who did not go through the media register, Ahmet Ismayilov said that those media will be taken to court:
“After the expiration of the 6-month period specified in the law, we will raise the issue about them before the court. The court will decide whether to continue their activities or not.”
The government media called the campaign of independent journalists a “smear”. Several media organizations question the reason for starting such a campaign after the events in Iran.